Martha Ulmer didn’t think much about her chronic cough, but it caught her attention when symptoms became worse.
“Out of nowhere, my throat would close up,” she recalled. “I would cough so hard, I’d have to gasp for air and I’d have to pull over while driving.”
Eating also was challenging. The 70-year-old Romeoville resident could only get a few bites of food down – and lost 40 pounds in six months.
That’s when Martha turned to a team of physicians at Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH) including Willis Parsons, M.D., Gary Chmielewski, M.D. and Malcolm Bilimoria, M.D.
Dr. Parsons performed an upper endoscopy and endoscopic ultrasound on Martha, which revealed a large hiatal hernia and a pre-cancerous tumor in her stomach just below her esophagus.
“Dr. Parsons is an excellent physician and was able to diagnose her accurately,” Dr. Chmielewski says. “He saw the hernia, but also saw the tumor, and that would have been easy to miss on an endoscopy.”
The doctors collaborated and determined that all the procedures Martha needed could be performed in a single surgery, using the da Vinci® Xi robotic equipment at NCH. Martha and her husband Kent recalled that every step of each procedure was clearly communicated to them.
“What impressed me the most was the way they used visual aids so that it was very understandable,” Kent says.
The first procedure, performed by Dr. Chmielewski, involved repairing the hernia. Following that, Dr. Bilimoria used the same robotic tools to remove the tumor that Dr. Parsons had marked.
“I placed an endoscopic tattoo around the mass so as to aid in its laparoscopic localization and removal,” Dr. Parsons says.
Martha needed repair work done on her esophagus after the tumor removal in order to swallow and digest her food properly and avoid acid reflux. Dr. Chmielewski opted for the LINX procedure, a magnetic beaded bracelet that helps Martha’s esophagus open and close properly.
Just a few weeks after surgery, Martha happily reports she has no pain, pressure or cough.
“The surgery was unique in that with one robotic surgery, we were able to solve two very serious problems for her,” says Dr. Bilimoria. “After a week, she was eating better than preoperatively.”
Martha is back to full speed, babysitting her grandchildren and singing in the car.
“I can walk to the corner and back with my grandchildren and I don’t get out of breath when I do it,” she says.
Martha is the 5,000th patient to undergo robotic surgery at NCH. In August, she participated in a celebration with her physicians and spoke with media about her experience, telling the Daily Herald, “I feel like a new person.”
“I can’t say enough nice things about NCH,” Martha says. “From the surgeons all the way down to the people who transported me for tests, this is a well-trained group that knows how to take care of people.”
Learn more about the NCH Robotics Institute. Read Martha’s story in the Daily Herald.